Should I give a book a bad review?

What to do with a ‘bad’ book. 
Sometimes I read a book that I really think is not great. I’m not talking about a story that’s just not for (though that can be hard to differentiate – more on that later) but a book that is just badly written. Maybe the plot has obvious gaping holes, maybe there are huge factual inaccuracies or there has been no editing, leaving many tiny grammatical and spelling errors, but whatever the reason, you feel the book really is bad. And then what?

I see authors on social media daily begging for reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and numerous other sales and review sites. I understand that reviews are vital, it shows the book is being read and assuming the reviews are good it will encourage new readers. On some sites just having reviews can increase the chances of the book being promoted on the site as it looks ‘popular’, and promotion leads to sales and authors need sales (because like most humans – they need to eat, pay rent, wear clothes etc – it might be art darlings, but even artists die if not fed and watered)

So I’ve read a book and I really hated it. What now? First off remember I said it can be hard to know why you hated a book? Maybe you love crime drama and that’s what you thought the book would be, but it turned into a fantasy story with dragons, or a romance with kissing; in those cases the book might not be bad, you might just not have liked it. It is fine to not like a book. You can still review a book while being clear it wasn’t your thing, you can explain, without spoilers, why you think other readers might like the bits you didn’t. Maybe the dragons were beautifully described or the kissing stuff was written with great care and excellent use of language (unlike most of this blog post), so you can comment on that. It’s OK to give the book lower than 5 stars too – but I wouldn’t give lower than average just because I didn’t like it – unless the star rating specifically separates into how well written the book was and whether you liked it. I might also mention that I don't read many books like it so my review will not be based on much background knowledge.

Once you have decided that the book really was ‘bad’, then what? You have a few options.

  • Don’t review the book. Ignore it altogether, spare the author your painful critique and just move on. This only works if you bought the book yourself and were not asked to review it, and if you haven’t told all and sundry (including the author) that you are reading it.
  • Give the book low stars and a terrible moany review. I frown on this approach. It is mean spirited and unhelpful. It will hurt the author while offering no insights into the problems.
  • Privately contact the author, point out the issues you have with the book (politely) and ask them if they still want you to review it. This is a risky approach as the author may still be hurt. But it gives them a chance to respond and maybe even address the issues, perhaps they can correct things (particularly in an electronic book) or at least be aware of them for future writing.
  • Give a low star review and list the reasons politely and with ways they could have been improved. You are now setting yourself up for replies and criticism, but as long as you are not rude and remain honest, this seems fair. You do not have to write a long review and can keep it brief. Try the old ‘shit’ sandwich approach too. Start with a nice thing about the book, follow with some issues and how you would have liked them to have been sorted, followed by a positive ending.
  • Lastly, you could lie. Give the book five stars, be really vague and tell everyone it was great and they should read it. The author will be happy and anyone who reads the book and hates it will think you are an idiot. Other people may lie too and, like the Emporer's New Clothes, it could be years before some brave soul points out that the book is actually terrible.
I don’t know what you do when you read a book you think was bad, I think I use a mixture of the methods I’ve outlined above (all authors I’ve ever reviewed and given 5 stars to will now panic and wonder if I secretly hated their books). I asked authors on twitter for their thoughts and the vast majority said that while they hate a bad review it keeps reviews real, and constructive criticism can be useful. Luckily, reading a book I think is poor doesn’t happen very often. I seem to either be good at judging a book by its cover or I have a low threshold for ‘poor’. I read a variety of books and styles and usually enjoy them.

I shall continue to read and review books whenever I can. I hope you do too. And share what you read on social media too, spread the word.

Happy reading …and don’t forget – authors love reviews. Some authors even love bad ones.

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